Sword & Shield: Astral Radiance, the newest Pokemon Trading Card Game set, introduces the game to the world of Pokemon Legends: Arceus. You’d be forgiven for thinking that was the last set, Brilliant Stars, which debuted alongside the game and featured Arceus itself in all its branding! But nope, it’s this one. So if you’re a fan of that world and its new creatures, you’ll find a lot to love here.
It does make for something of a straightforward release. There’s no room for weird pulls here, as The Pokemon Company had to give you Irida, Adaman and Kamado. The starter lines, with their new final evolutions? Yeah, that’s a large percentage of the set’s card count. We’ll see the deeper cuts later.
For now, though? You probably want to see these. Each of the Hisuian starters shift types, as they do in their digital forms. To make this work, the first two evolution steps use fully colorless attacks. This could be interesting! It makes them easier to splash in their original forms too, and anything that makes deck-building more creative is a win for the game.
The introduction of a new world is a great time to do some scene-setting, and the mix of Trainers here does its best. We’ll probably see more Hisui locations in the future, but the first few are flavorful. Jubilife Village lets players go home and regroup, essentially, getting a new hand of five cards and ending their turn without attacking. Temple of Sinnoh neutralizes Special Energy, making for more of a brutal test of inner strength. Makes sense for Legends‘ boss battles!
As with most Western sets, there’s a bit of shuffling of the cards’ Japanese release order, which means you’ll find a few Galar leftovers here too. It’s particularly funny to see a few Single Strike and Rapid Strike cards. After all, Legends’ battle mechanics fit with these ideas even better than Isle of Armor. It’s probably the last gasp of the designation, though. We wish these “factions” would see more sustained support, so they could become more competitively viable long-term. Instead, they’re largely fleeting flavor.
Also returning here is a Trainer Gallery subset. These cards have fun art! Most of them are from older regions, but Kleavor and Wyrdeer do show up and provide some Hisui representation. Between these and the wealth of fun submissions to the Illustration Contest, it really does make us wonder why there are so many boring entries in the common and uncommon ranks.
While it’s in no way practical and likely never going to see actual play, Astral Radiance includes a ludicrous combo that you really only get to see in TCGs. Regigigas’ Ancient Wisdom ability lets you accelerate energy retrieval and play by three a turn, but only if all five other Regi creatures are on the table. So hey, if you want to run six energy types and no Pokemon V-level sweepers for a chance at an Exodia-level combo that doesn’t really win you the game? You can. Sometimes it’s good for a collectible card game to have silly gimmicks, so we’re pleasantly amused.
Also fitting well with the Legends debut is the return of “shiny” Pokemon to the TCG. Dubbed “Radiant” this time, they’re one-per-deck, and they have some fun effects attached. Radiant Hawlucha, for example, psychs up your Active Pokemon from the bench to do more damage to VMAX creatures. Since it’s so much easier to get shiny variants in Arceus, their presence here pairs well. Still: they’re rare, and there aren’t many of them yet. We’re guessing there will be a handful of Radiant cards in each set for years to come.
As yet another physical set launches with Pokemon TCG Live branding, we wonder: is this the one that launches with the new digital platform? We haven’t heard much since the beta in February, and it feels like it might just be ready. Fingers crossed?